Establishment and Meritocracy

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Establishment and Meritocracy
By Peter Hennessy
Haus Curiosities – £7.99

There’s a really apt quote that Peter Hennessy refers to in this altogether incisive essay, which does much to highlight the differing twain betwixt the smokescreen compliance of ‘the haves,’ and the all imbued, British induced myopic silence of the ‘have-nots.’

In the second chapter of ‘Revival and Rise,’ he refers to William Cobbett’s 1953 The Thing: ”Trotsky,’ he began, tells how, when he first visited England, Lenin took him round London and, pointing out the sights, exclaimed:’That’s their Westminster Abbey! That’s their Houses of Parliament!’… By them he meant not the English, but the governing classes, the Establishment. And indeed in no other European country is the Establishment so clearly defined and so complacently secure.”

Here. Here. Try telling that to a deeply entrenchend, over subscribed Daily Mail reader, and you’l be heckled out of the country faster than a rastafarian at a UKIP Convention For The Reconcilliation Of Goodwill.

There again, Hennessey – who is Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History at Queen Mary, University of London, has always been in prime posession of a nigh unrivalled knack, of politicaly telling it as it is.

There mere fact that Establishment and Meritocracy has been written in memory of Michael Foot, speaks volumes of both a finely attuned wit, as well as that of a gesture of resouding good will. That it’s also peppered with a menagerie of corking one liners (‘The Establishment is the present-day institutional museum of Britain’s past greatness,’ ‘if England were out of the game, the price of fish would not be altered by a farthing,’ ‘I’m not a landower, I’m a brain owner,’ ‘We need to re-discover our heart. If we want to avoid moving into a new ice age of humanity we must give more weight to reasons of the heart,’ ‘knowledge translates directly into power; love translates into service’) should come as absolutely no surprise.

As not only is Hennessy a Fellow of the British Academy, he’s exceedingly well versed in the value of satire, which is made resoundingly clear in the very first chapter, ‘The Twin Themes’: ”]…] the Establishment has brought much joy and humour as the perfect tethered goat for satirists. This has been particularly true since the early 1960s when that great genius among satirists, Peter Cook, founded The Establishment Club in Soho for the purposes of nightly lampooning amidst the rich opportunities presented by the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan as it proceeded to decay like a ripe stilton.”

Establishment and Meritocracy is a cloying, cleansing, and so far as the powers that be are concerned, calamitous read. It sets the record straight in much the same way as it’s musical cousin, ‘Eton Rifles’ by The Jam; which, if memory serves, is one of David Cameron’s all time favourite songs.

The fact that he’ll probably (once again) miss the point entirely of course, can only continue to lend itself to a canon like lack of sublime meritocrical understanding in the first (tragic) degree.

David Marx

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